The media was awashed last week of how the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi imposed a government appointee, Alhaji Abubakar Tsanni on the members of the CRFFN Governing Council as against the provisions of the Act establishing the Council. In this interview, a Council member who saw it all, Chief Peter tells the story as it happened and what is expected of the new Council; Excerpts;
Last week, a lot of stories came down to us here from Abuja where you had gone for inauguration as members of the CRFFN Governing Council where it was alleged that the Minister of Transportation imposed a Chairman on the Council as against the provisions of the Act establishing the CRFFN, that even when one of you tried to call the attention of the Minister to the Act, he was shunned. Tell us, what actually transpired at Abuja?
In the first place, I thank you for finding time to interview me. We went to Abuja, first of all, let me correct that impression, the Minister did not impose anybody on us. The Chairman is a registered freight forwarder introduced to us by some of these people that are now talking here and there. Before the election, the man has been interacting with NAGAFF; NAGAFF has been parading the man to be Chairman of the Council. Before the election, they had been talking, so, I know the man from NAGAFF and I made my enquiries, they showed me the man. I was there when he cast his vote during the election of the fifteen freight forwarding members of the Council. Then I now asked why and who he was, they told me that he is a registered freight forwarder. By then, I have seen him severally with NAGAFF.
So, when we got to Abuja, though the Minister made mention that he was interested to be around where we will do the election to produce a Chairman. So, he was seated, the Minister now asked us, what are we to do today and everybody said inauguration. He said no, you people will elect your Chairman before the inauguration. We now added not only Chairman but Vice also and he said yes, that we are here today for the election of Chairman and Vice Chairman, then tomorrow, it will be inauguration.
He now asked who will be your Chairman, Increase Uche now stood up and started reading, wanting to make reference to the Act when we have never done anything. You see, going to a place with a prepared mindset is always very bad, it is not good. You go there open minded so that anything that comes out from there, you know how to tackle it but when you go with a mindset, you are bound to fail. So, he started reading the Act when the Minister has not said he wanted any individual, he only said that he wanted to witness our election, nobody has said anything, he just stood up because they had a mindset from NAGAFF which is very bad. So, the Minister now shunned him.
When he was shunned, he sat down, I now stood up immediately and nominated Tsanni Abubakar to be our Chairman and had overwhelming support but the Minister said no and gave one reason why Tsanni Abubakar won’t be the Chairman…
There are certain things he said, may be somebody must have called him in favour of that man, he said that because somebody had intervened on his (Tsanni) behalf, that he doesn’t want him. But at the tail end, maybe he used it as a joke, the Minister now asked, what of this man here? Can’t he be the Chairman?
Who was he referring to then?
He was referring to one Bala Daura and we now said no, that Bala is not conversant with the job, he just came in and the Minister said that he wanted that man (Bala), that if it is possible, let that man be the Chairman. The Man (Bala) stood up and say, let us give it to Tsanni that he was in support of Tsanni who has been nominated earlier by me and overwhelmingly, we elected the man. There was no dissenting voice, so, there was total support and I signed the paper on behalf of the participating members that we elected this man. That was just what happened. But because some people, NAGAFF particularly have been having a mindset on what will happen and it didn’t go that way they want, they started making noise. We were still in Abuja when they started talking but nobody replied them because we don’t want to start exchanging words. But this as I told you was what happened at Abuja.
So, it is now clear that it was not the Minister that single handedly handpicked Tsanni and imposed him on you people…
Not at all!
Sir, could you tell us what pushed you to nominate Alhaji Tsanni knowing full well that he was not an elected freight forwarder from whom the Act stated that Chairman should be elected more so as two government appointees, one of them Dr. Eugene Nweke, who was then NAGAFF President were disqualified from contesting for the Chairmanship seat on the basis of their appointment by Government?
That was in the first and second Council we did that. This time around, remember I have earlier told you that I knew this man from NAGAFF, they have been parading him as the Chairman of the Council and my enquiries when the man voted in the election of the fifteen freight forwarders and was told that the man is a registered freight forwarder and he registered may be in that NAGAFF Village.
So, since he is a registered freight forwarder, he can be the Chairman since NAGAFF wants him to be Chairman. Getting to know about all this things, when we got there, based on how NAGAFF has been flying his flag, I now said let this man be the Chairman.
Secondly, an Igboman was the first Chairman of the Council, a Yoruba man was the second Chairman, so, I thought if an Hausa man gets it this time, it won’t be wrong after all. So, that also formed my decision to nominated him since he is a registered freight forwarder and from the north.
But I understand that the Act specifically said that the Chairman must come from the elected freight forwarders and not from the appointed freight forwarders because I said earlier, Eugene Nweke as at the time he was disqualified from contesting for Chairman was a registered freight forwarder and also a President of one of the freight forwarding association then. What has changed between then and now?
Well, that was then but now we are talking about what happened now.
If you say that was then, has the law been amended?
It cannot be amended, he is a freight forwarder, he can be Chairman.
At what point did this man register as a freight forwarder?
Ask NAGAFF, I made my enquiries as you are making this enquiry and NAGAFF told me the man is a registered freight forwarder. So, ask them because at a time when they were registering all this thing, the NAGAFF Village became CRFFN registration point where they go to register people and that was why I saw the man voting, I went straight to Aniebonam and asked, who is this man voting? He then told me the man is a registered freight forwarder.
We are all freight forwarders, if they want the man to become the Chairman of the Council, I now said to myself, there is nothing I can do, I am a lone ranger, I now said since these people have been projecting him as the Council Chairman, let me nominate him.
There was an allegation that ANLCA people pressurized the Minister to delay the inauguration to enable you fine-tune what played out at Abuja. How true was that?
I am hearing this for the first time. Let me tell you the gospel truth, there was nothing like that. Let me repeat this, it was from NAGAFF that I know this man. They know what they were planning, whether if the man goes as the Chairman, then Increase Uche will follow as the Vice Chairman, I don’t know about that. Just to show you that they have a mindset, these things that you are now asking me is the other way round, it is those people that are preparing for Tsanni to be Chairman while they would produce Vice Chairman and when you see what played out, you find out that it was real because Minister has not said anything and somebody stood up and started quoting the law.
So, that has been their plan but I don’t know, what I did was to play our card and everybody saw it, I made my nomination and the man won overwhelmingly.
So, if the Minister did not play any pre-meditated action, how then would explain that after the election of the Chairman, the Minister left the election of the Vice Chairman for the Registrar of CRFFN to carry on while he leaves?
No! when the Minister left, we were telling him to stay and let us conduct election for the Vice Chairman as well, he said no because he had a meeting going on which he broke out from and came to address us. As that happened, as he was leaving, we reminded him of the election of Vice Chairman and he said that one should be for the next day.
As he left, we the freight forwarders now said let us do it now so that if we come here tomorrow we know that it is only inauguration that we come for. That was what happened. I didn’t add, I didn’t subtract, the freight forwarders there, NAGAFF, NAFFAC, AREFFN, ANLCA, National Council, all of us agreed with the Registrar and the appointees to complete our election immediately so that tomorrow we will only face inauguration. The Minister wasn’t there, Minister has postponed the election of Vice Chairman till the following day because of the meeting he left behind in order for him to address us. The Minister had no hand in whatever we did at Abuja.
It was believed that the Minister played a smart one on the freight forwarders who were ready to resist his plan to impose a government anointed candidate on them after the inauguration by going ahead to conduct election before the inauguration with the intent that if he won’t have his way in having his desired candidate, Tsanni elected as Chairman, he would put off the inauguration. This is more so as the inauguration was supposed to come before election. How do you explain this sir?
No! All this allegations are coming from one source, the same people who had already had a mindset; they are the people bringing these allegations. How can you know? Did the Minister tell them that? How do they know that it was what Minister planned? I am hearing it for the first time.
There is one thing I want you to go out here with, anything that happens in this world is how God wants it, so everything that happened at Abuja was how God wanted it and planned it, nobody had a hand in it. Whether you do election before the inauguration or you do inauguration before election, they are the same thing.
NAGAFF has reacted to the election officially by saying that it may reject Tsanni as Chairman of CRFFN and is consulting with its legal team on the next line of action. What is your take on this?
I don’t think I can clean my anus before going to toilet, I will go to toilet, after which I clean my anus. Let them come up, they said that they may, let us watch them, let them do whatever they want because at times, some people like trouble. For things to be moving smoothly, some people are not interested in it until when there is trouble. I cannot ask anybody to go to court to take legal action against what we have done and I cannot ask anybody not to do that. When we get to the bridge, we plan how to cross it.
NAGAFF has claimed that in the first and Second Council, ANLCA ambushed them and from what happened at Abuja, it seems that has repeated itself again. When will this ANLCA- NAGAFF feud be brought to an end?
Let me tell you, ANLCA and NAGAFF is father and son, ANLCA is the father of all the associations, NAGAFF just sprang up from ANLCA and whenever a son tries to lift up his father, you know what will happen to him. So, we are not fighting for any supremacy at all, only if you a champion, you won’t know that somebody is somewhere planning how he will defeat you. That is exactly what NAGAFF is doing to ANLCA but they cannot do anything. We are not into any competition with NAGAFF at all.
Now that this Governing Council has been inaugurated, will ANLCA now allow the collection of POF to go on as they had insisted that until a Governing Council is in place, they won’t allow collection of POF?
When we get to the bridge like I said, we know how to cross it. It came up in our inaugural meeting but we said no, this is not why we were inaugurated.
But the Minister was harping on it as if they money was all he wanted?
Yes! But when he left, the Council now took their decision because it is a minor thing, it is secondary. This is not why we were inaugurated. We have so many problems which everybody is looking at us, the last hope of the common freight forwarder is the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, they want to see what we can do. We have to solve so many problems. I am not among those who are thinking of collecting that POF.
So how come the December commencement date that is being bandied about in the media?
Somebody mentioned that and we said no. it is not possible. It came up as an agenda to be treated, we now told them, we are the freight forwarders, we wear the shoes, we know where it pinches us. We now told the whole Council that this is not why we were inaugurated, let this thing be thrown out first, we know the problems of the freight forwarders at the ports and the land borders, let us start solving their problems first, this thing will come later then we will look at it and know whether it will be possible or not.
Now that you have been inaugurated as members of the CRFFN Governing Council, what areas are you focusing your attention first?
The very first thing we have to do is to create committees with various functions. You don’t expect all the Council members to be doing everything at the same time, no! we have to have committee on registration, committee on tribunal, committee on enforcement, monitoring and so on. That is the very first thing we have to do. When they are in place, every committee has its own terms of reference, so we work with fact. Later on, we will now come to the issue of whether POF will come onboard or not.
How would you harmonize the functions of the Nigeria Customs Service and the CRFFN to avoid this mutual suspicion within the two agencies of government?
See, what happened is that in the past we have customs trying to sabotage the affairs of CRFFN which is not there now and cannot be because initially, even the stakeholders, if you call them for town hall meeting, they would not come. I remember there was a time we put canopies in the port, two or three people will be there ringing bell, drawing attention for people to come and meet them then, nobody came and you can’t blame anybody because nobody knows about what you are talking about. That was exactly what happened to customs.
The very first thing that came up, even the CGs then may not have understood it very well, he was looking at it that maybe these people are coming to usurp their function but now everybody is on the same page. You know the very first thing we did in the first and second Councils was that we disseminated information and people came to know that there is something like CRFFN. It is a very big thing, awareness, then we started registration which is also another awareness. It was after the registration that people, even the customs came to know that these people have come to stay.
There were people who had not heard anything about CRFFN, even the customs, they will go back to the Act and read this Act. Now that we have come back, it is not the way they received us then that they will receive us now. So that was exactly what happened. So, the issue of customs wouldn’t be any problem at all.
Many people are yet to register as freight forwarders. What are your plans in this regard?
See, if you want to practice as a freight forwarder, you have to go and register with the CRFFN. It is an ongoing thing, up till tomorrow, we are still registering, it is part of the committees that I told you that we will get. We have registration committee which you know I was the Chairman in the first and second Councils, I registered everybody. So, now that we still have that registration committee, it is in place, so, if you want to be a freight forwarder or you want to clear something or do anything as a freight forwarder, you go and register.
Just like when you get to common Benin here, you can’t enter their port if you are a foreigner talk more of other places but today, if you come to our ports, you see white man inside the port, doing what?
So, these are the areas where we will focus attention. If you retire as a LASTMA official, you will join freight forwarding, police officers retired, they are freight forwarders, we will stop it. The freight forwarding will be for professionals, that will be the very first thing we will achieve, let the business be for the professionals and how do we go about it? You don’t allow people who don’t have port pass to access our ports and for you to have port pass, you have to be registered as a freight forwarder. NPA cannot issue you port pass without CRFFN registration. So, when you registered as a freight forwarder, you will be issued with a port pass which will allow you enter the port.
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